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The Roar



The Tracker: Ball watching in the A-League, Round 1

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Roar Rookie
12th May, 2020

“Football is not rocket science,” according to Robbie Fowler, coach of Brisbane Roar.

I agree. Football is much harder than that.

New Zealand’s Rocket Lab aims to have a manned station orbiting the moon next year so crew can descend to the surface and once again go exploring. The moon possesses the speed and a path that can be reliably predicted. The adventurers won’t miss when they land.

Yet I’ve missed an open goal from one metre out! The ball sailed over the bar and into orbit. That surely demonstrates the unpredictability of the path of the ball, especially in relation to a player’s technical ability.

Then add the unreliable movement of players. Also, consider defenders and attackers arriving in a small space in front of goal with the ball fizzing around. It’s a recipe for football science gone mad. It’s a recipe that is difficult to follow. To be fair, many have tried, and I am one of them.

I have tested a recipe for assessing when ball watching happened during this A-League season. Let’s call it operationalising ball watching. Wikipedia says that operationalising means “defining a fuzzy concept so as to make it clearly distinguishable, measurable and understandable by empirical observation (especially in psychology).”


Empirical observation is direct observation. For me, that meant using visual records from matches, rather than being at matches in person. You will understand that not all camera angles or pictures chosen by producers will tell the full story in the construction of a goal.

However, the images can be repeated over and over. This is most helpful, for example, to identify players correctly. For the researchers among you, both quantitative and qualitative methods were used to analyse the presence of ball watching. This has been no easy task and is therefore laden with ifs and buts. This starter recipe may raise as many questions as it will answers.

Roar and Wanderers.

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

The scoring of a goal is the culmination of many contributing factors, of course. In this ball watching part of the work I have studied only the defender, just split seconds before the goal was scored, that I think could have prevented the goal.

While other defenders earlier may also have committed errors, that defender who needed to stick to his tracking job had the greatest ability to contribute to negating the goal-scoring chance.

This was a huge responsibility and therefore that defender’s decisions were more critical than other players’ decisions. He was the last one who could have taken preventative action.

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Often that player had more time to judge the development of the danger than others. I am not concerned with the mistakes of the other defenders, although I have noted their whereabouts on the pitch as a context for the observed defender.

The review of the pattern of play then helped to determine the last player who needed to be observed. This was indeed with the benefit of hindsight. It is my aim to provide insight into this hindsight to enable foresight.

Planning, preparation and anticipation will then be enhanced. I look forward to hearing from players who, in future, prevent a goal from being scored by what they learn here. Better than rocket science.

A-League 2019-20 Round 1, October 11 to October 18
Adelaide United 2 (Nikola Mileusnic 44’, Al Hassan Toure 51’) versus Sydney FC 3 (Adam Le Fondre 22’, 28’, Ryan McGowan 87’); Western Sydney Wanderers 2 (Mitchell Duke 41’, 82’ pen) versus Central Coast Mariners 1 (Milan Djuric 36’); Melbourne Victory 0 versus Melbourne City 0; Wellington Phoenix 0 versus Western United 1 (Besart Berisha 34’); Perth Glory 1 (Chris Ikonomidis 34’) versus Brisbane Roar 1 (Roy O’Donovan, 90+5′).

Focused defence (2)
Goals conceded Defending team Goal scorer
Ball watching (5)
Luke DeVere Phoenix Berisha
Macauley Gillesphey Roar Ikonomidis
Dino Djulbic Perth O’Donovan
Ryan Strain Adelaide Le Fondre (28′)
Un-named Adelaide McGowan
Inconclusive (1)
Penalties (2)
Direct free kick (1)